If you were the lady in front of me at the toll booth that I screamed at last night, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies.
I’m from Wisconsin. Let’s get that out of the way first. Wisconsinites, because we’re mostly rural, don’t have a lot of experience with toll booths. Maybe once or twice a year I will drive through a toll booth, and each time I do I’m struck with wonder that massive numbers of cars actually come to a complete stop numerous times in the middle of their commute to throw a few quarters into a mechanical bin. It just doesn’t seem right.
On the few occasions I do pass through toll booths, it’s usually on the way to a Notre Dame football game, a shopping mall, or a Tom Jones concert. My husband is usually the one driving when we encounter toll booths and customarily begins his toll booth commentary miles before we reach it, which includes the number of coins he believes he will need (he has planned ahead so there is a vast array of coin combinations at the ready), wondering aloud how backed up the lanes will be, and then the usual gasp of horror at how much the toll has risen since the last time we paid one.
I, on the other hand, when heading off on a trip into our neighboring state to the south, which seems to have more toll booths than Wisconsin has sweet corn stands, give nary a passing thought to the coin-gulping boxes that dot the Illinois freeway system.
This irreverent, nay, flippant, attitude, towards the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority can be fraught with peril. Such as the peril that was visited upon a driver who, not unlike myself, seems to adhere to a toll-way philosophy similar to mine, which can be summed up in four words: “Oh ____, a toll?!”
And because of that, I couldn’t become angry when returning from a Tom Jones concert in Illinois (if you don’t know who Tom Jones is ask your mother) when a compact car in front of me at our final toll booth seemed to behaving difficulty getting the green “go” light to come on. I came to a stop behind her and from her bodily motions I could see she was looking around the car for change. Finally she rolled down her window and threw some money into the bin and then drove up to the exit light but it remained red. In the meantime, I had pulled almost up to the toll machine in anticipation of her leaving. A quick glance in my rearview mirror revealed a small sports car backing up and pulling out of the lane to extricat himself from what he apparently thought was going to be an endless night idling behind me and the small blue car. After he backed up, I backed up also so that the detained car could back up also and throw some more money into the machine. But instead of backing up, she appeared to be preoccupied with scouring the car for more money. Right about this time it occurred to me that we could be here for a very long time unless someone ponied up payed her toll. So I stopped backing up, drove up to the toll machine as close as I could, got out of the car and tossed a quarter into the bin. A second later the light turned green. Relieved I started sprinting back to my car only to turn my head to see that the lady in the blue car was now opening her door, apparently to walk back to the machine and put more money in, as she must have been in such a panic looking for coins that she didn’t notice me getting out of the car and paying her toll or the light turning green.
Suddenly it occurred to me that I had sacrificed one of my three quarters for her and had only two quarters left for my own toll. It also flashed into by brain that maybe the green light only stays on for a certain minuscule amount of time, after which it will turn back to red and require two more quarters. Of course, all of these high pressure mental calculations were enhanced by the three glasses of Chardonnay I had enjoyed while grooving to the live tunes of “Delilah” and “Just Help Yourself” and, yet, at the same time, I’m certain that I was well under the legal blood alcohol limit for driving.
But, we had taken a wrong turn out of the concert and already spent a half hour retracing our steps and it was 11:00 at night and I had two other Tom Jones groupies in my car that needed to go to work the next morning, so, yeah, I sort of panicked.
I stopped in my tracks, turned around and bellowed, “GO!” at the top of my lungs while motioning you off as I envisioned the light turning back to red and having to pay your toll for you all over again and then having to sleep right there at the collection booth because I wouldn’t have enough quarters left for my own escape.
And you went. Boy did you take off.
“You scared her,” my friend informed me when I got back in the car, but only after she laughed so hard she doubled over and hit her head on the bowed-out hand grip on my dash board that she didn’t see because it was dark.
“She grabbed that steering wheel and took off like the Cowardly Lion after he got hollered at by the Great Oz,”she guffawed.
“More like Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers movie when she yelled “GO!” to launch the rocket ship,” my daughter observed.
Well, I may not be the Miss Manners of the tollway, so, What’s New Pussycat? It’s Not Unusual. And, once we finally got there, it was Good To Touch The Green Green Grass of Home.